Beginning as early as May 11, approximately 240 young adults will pull on their best compression clothing, snap on their helmets, clip their cleats into their pedals, and begin a cross country adventure on nothing but a bicycle.
Bike and Build is an organization that was founded in 2002, with its biggest goal being to raise money for affordable housing in the U.S. Participants ride their bikes from one end of the country to the other, stopping to spread word of their cause and build affordable houses along the way.
Since it was founded, over 1,500 participants have raised more than $3.3 million for the cause. Bike and Build provides eight routes across the country, all beginning at different locations in the United States and at different times in the summer.
In order to ride, students must apply through an essay-based application. Once accepted, participants must raise $4,500 to fund the trip. This money helps pay for the bike, Therm-a-Rest air mattress, and food that Bike and Build gives participants. Part of the money is automatically donated to organizations fighting for affordable housing.
Allison Ribachonek is a UB alumna, with her bachelor's in civil engineering and master's in environmental and hydrosystems engineering. Since 2005, Ribachonek has traveled to Israel, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Brussels, the Netherlands, England, and China. Bike and Build will be her first trip cross-country.
"Reflecting recently on my travels over the last few years, it felt a bit shameful to me that I've seen and interacted with more of the world than my own country," Ribachonek said. "There is so much of the U.S. and so many sub-cultures I have not experienced nor seen for myself. So to fulfill my desire for something huge, Bike and Build was the obvious choice."
She will be leaving from Jacksonville, Fla. on May 16, and ending her trip in Monterey, Calif. Being a first-timer, she has reached out to others who have completed this task.
"What's cool is that even though I haven't officially met any of my other teammates, we're already connecting with one another in the form of arranging road trips down to Florida," Ribachonek said.
When Ryan Brown, a senior neurology and cognitive science major at the University of Rochester, first heard about the program, he thought it was a great way to travel the country before entering the "real world" this fall. The decision to apply was simple – the cause was great and the application itself was not too complicated either, according to Brown.
"I was a little skeptical as to if I would be admitted to the program with the large number of applicants they have," Brown said. "But I hoped for the best. When I was notified that I got into the program, and received my first choice route, I was so happy."
He will be riding from Maine to Santa Barbara beginning June 16. But before applying and being accepted into the program, Brown did not really understand the affordable housing crisis.
"It's something that you hear about, but it wasn't something I really took to heart," Brown said. "After being accepted, I decided to read into the problem. It is actually a huge problem [in] the U.S., and it affects many more people than I initially thought. The cause does mean a lot to me, and has a special place in my heart."
While the concept and cause are honorable and enticing, biking across the country is no easy feat. Training is very important for those interested.
Bob Gosch, champion of the Mr. USA Bodybuilding competition in 1989 and two-time winner of the heavyweight class of the Mr. America competition, encourages becoming a student of cycling first.
"I tell everyone to begin by becoming a student of their activity," Gosch said. "Jump in, study it, use the Internet. Assemble your own expert power. Keep an open mind, especially in the beginning of this process, until you find a philosophy that fits your intuition and common sense."
Strength and endurance are very important in something like this, but Gosch also emphasizes the importance of stretching and injury prevention training. Things like yoga and Pilates help stretch overused muscles and increase flexibility. These activities are just as vital as the cardio and core training that one should do as well, according to Gosch.
Bike and Build requires that each rider document 500 miles of riding prior to the trip, and one trip must be over 65 miles. They also send participants a training guide, helping them to stay active before the warmer weather emerges, and meet the pre-trip goals.
Since signing up for the trip, Ribachonek has been spinning two to four times a week, and training for a half marathon. She has also started rock climbing once a week, and has joined the Boston network of Bike and Build alumni.
"I think I've been doing a really good job of honoring their recommendation to stay active in other ways while it's cold. The alumni network and my team's Facebook group has been very resourceful when it comes to lessons learned, how to stay healthy on the trip, and what gear to invest in," Ribachonek said.
Corey Knowles, an exercise science graduate student, is the secretary of the UB Cycling club. He has been cycling for seven years and has competed in hundreds of competitions. The cycling club does not only race – one can join and ride recreationally as well. Knowles personally found his niche in competition.
For Knowles – and many other cyclists – diet and exercise are very important. There is a delicate balance in training: one must be strong, but not bulky. Making sure riders supply their bodies with the correct food is common sense, but during a race – or trip across the country – it is essential.
"Anything over two hours, you need to plan what you're going to eat," Knowles said. "If you run out of glycogen, you are working at a very reduced capacity. Cells cannot produce energy without carbs. So there are these gel packs, or ‘gu.' They are packets of really dense carbs and sugar in a gel form. They are easier to eat and easier on the stomach. You can eat one in a short amount of time, and in a race, they are your main food supply."
It's also recommended that riders bring 24 ounces of a sports drink for every hour that they ride, regardless of mileage.
Cycling is also extremely expensive. For Knowles, the tires on his bike alone cost $2,600 each. The clothing gear is made of materials that protect against wind, rain, and reflect moisture away from the body.
In addition to spending months training prior to the adventure, riders must find a way to afford all of the necessary additional gear.
Although the expenses, fundraising, application, and training that go along with Bike and Build might be expensive, the members think it's all worth it. For Brown, seeing the country from end to end is the most exhilarating part.
"I am hoping to get a lot out of this experience, besides huge thighs," Brown said. "I want to see the country, and I am most excited about riding alongside the Grand Canyon. I also get to spend the summer with 30 kids who are my age from all over the country, that are just as excited as I am. It is going to be the summer of a lifetime."
Ribachonek feels a range of emotions – nervousness and anxiety – but is mostly excited. Having received her master's at the end of this past fall semester, she is sure this trip will help her to reach her career goals.
"I'm really excited to have the opportunity to connect with American communities in a similar fashion to my experience in China," Ribachonek said. "I am thrilled at the thought of connecting with fascinating landscapes and locals with such a unique, unforgettable, and humbling program. No amount of dwelling or angle-evaluating will change how committed and excited I am to bike across the country while standing up for an issue that is largely in need of a louder voice."
Bike and Build believes affordable housing is a problem that needs to be addressed, and the organization provides the opportunity for an amazing view along the way. Apply, start training, and get ready. Four thousand miles of America are waiting.